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Nato must end ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ military exercise on Russia's border, campaigners say

CAMPAIGNERS are demanding that Nato cancel a “dangerous and irresponsible” mass military exercise involving thousands of troops on Russia’s borders due to the coronavirus threat.

Stop the War has urged the government to pull British troops out of the US-led Defender Europe 20 exercise, the biggest deployment of US soldiers on the continent for 25 years.

The Pentagon announced on Monday that the operation would be scaled back in “size and scope” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the peace campaigners insist that such a costly and needless show of military might should not go ahead at a time when money is desperately needed to tackle the pandemic.

Some 20,000 soldiers who were due to take part in the 37,000-strong parade of 18 Nato members across six European countries, will now remain at home in the US or be sent back.

But the US Army Europe said a smaller exercise will still go ahead including “gunnery and other combined training events.”

Since January some 6,000 soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment have been sent from the US to Europe, according to Stop the War. The five-month exercise is expected to peak at the end of April and beginning of May.

The British army previously announced that 2,600 of its soldiers would take part in the operation, which is estimated to cost $340 million (£294m), according to Defence News.

Stop the War argues that money allocated for defence should now be diverted to healthcare and welfare, as the pandemic is set to cripple hospitals and force many workers into economic uncertainty.

“Defender is not only heightening tensions between Russia and Nato but, during the current global pandemic, is endangering the lives of military personnel and local civilians,” the group said.

“At a time when countries, including the UK, are under increasing financial pressure to deal with the pandemic, to continue with this military extravagance is both dangerous and irresponsible.

“Now is not the time to be increasing military spending but rather to reallocate funds away from the military towards welfare and healthcare.”

Stop the War’s calls were echoed by anti-war group the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

“It is absolutely essential that UK troops are withdrawn from Defender 20 and that the whole event is cancelled,” CND general secretary Kate Hudson said.

“This is, in effect, a practice invasion of Europe by 30,000 US troops. At the best of times this would be a disastrous military provocation.

“In the current public-health crisis, it jeopardises the lives not only of the troops from the US and the many European countries participating but the inhabitants of the countries in which they are operating. This criminal folly has to end.”

Nato claims the goal of the mass exercise is to “train, build readiness and deter potential threats throughout the continent,” and is not directed at any particular country. But many would argue that the drills are a provocation to Russia.

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